what is hair-pulling?
From my own research, I know that trich is often triggered by anxiety, and is commonly linked with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). However, while there are some similarities between the two, there are a couple of key differences. To understand more, I spoke to chartered counselling psychologist Louise Watson, who explains: "The main difference is that OCD rituals are driven by the need to rid oneself of an intrusive thought, whereas the urge to pull a hair out in trichotillomania is often not preceded by a thought.
"Pulling hairs can be a response to anxiety, and instances of pulling can often increase at times of stress, but pulling can also just as often be a response to other mood states. And, it can happen entirely unconsciously," says Louise. So, rather than being initiated by an intrusive thought, it is a body-focused repetitive behaviour that is done to reduce tension, stress, or even out of habit. The reality of the condition, in a world that prizes hair (in all the right places), means that trich sufferers feel even more isolated and at odds with their feelings. Particularly as symptoms typically rear their head during adolescent years, which can already be a tricky time for self-esteem and body image.
how common is trich?
If you do a Google search (and, believe me, I've Googled it a lot over the years), there isn't much in the way of UK-based information. Nor will you come across many real-life experiences. I know that it's not one of the more common mental health problems but, according to Anxiety UK, it is now thought to be more prevalent than previously acknowledged.
Although there have been no large studies to date on the prevalence of trichotillomania, one in the US showed that, among a sample of students, 1-2% had a past or current history of trich. So, it would seem that perhaps it's more about the reluctance of people to open up about their struggles that is adding to the elusiveness of the disorder. I spoke to Natalie Richardson about her experience. "I struggled with trich briefly as a young child, but it resurfaced in my 20s and it's something I still struggle with today," she tells me. "I've no idea what the trigger was as a child; I used to twirl my hair around my finger and then rip it out in chunks. But, when it restarted a few years ago, I think it was triggered by the breakdown of a long-term relationship."